Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I assume you're making those cartoon noises to attract my attention

I loves me a good Hitler joke.

My introduction to The Producers was in its current incarnation as smash Broadway hit. As such, I was ruined to some of the better aspects of the film long before I ever got around to watching it. I was familiar with the plot. I had heard the songs from the musical produced by Messrs Bialystock and Bloom. I knew it all. And yet, Mel Brooks' 1968 film somehow remained an entertaining and engrossing film experience.

I have to add the disclaimer that I have a bit of a Gene Wilder fetish. The man can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. Correction! With the exception of making guest appearances on Will and Grace, the man can do no wrong. Even the shitty movies he's appeared in (and there have been several) are worth watching solely on the merits of his comedic prowess. Gene Wilder is my god. My silly, curly-haired Jewish god. His Leo Bloom is in every way superior to Matthew Broderick's version. IN EVERY WAY. Go home and cry to your horse-wife, Bueller.

There is a strange, almost homoerotic relationship between Wilder's Bloom and Zero Mostel's Bialystock. When it is discovered later in the film that Bialystock is Bloom's first real friend, the closeness becomes clear. It's like Nelson becoming ultra-attached to Bart Simpson when he comes to his party. When you've never had friends, you'll tend to be clingy when you find one.

I'm pretty sure the Simpsons reference was not Brooks' original intention when he wrote the film in the late sixties.

Brooks does make a number of brilliant decisions, though. In fact, with the possible exception of Young Frankenstein, his directorial vision has never been sharper. There are a number of images in the film that I found instantly iconic--Bialystock in front of the fountain, for instance, or the three men crammed into one very small elevator. I didn't know Brooks had this vision in him. Then again, I grew up watching movies in which he attempted to emulate other directors. Mel Brooks should work on non-parodies more frequently.

The stage musical is obviously a lesser piece than this film. The story works infinitely better without random songs thrown in. All of the singing in this film comes from on-screen sources: the musical within the film; auditions for said musical; a brief moment of accompaniment with a juke box. There are some creative choices that are made with the addition of songs in the musical that ultimately act to the plot's detriment. In this film, German playwright Franz Liebkind is almost an intimidating presence for the majority of his appearance. From what I can remember of the Broadway version, he has some sort of musical number about leiderhosen and his pet birds. It's an entirely different dynamic, and I remember that it did not seem to pay off. Additionally, foxy Swedish secretary Ulla is unable to speak English and entirely vapid in the film, but on Broadway she has a song and dance number. These character choices had to be made to translate the film to stage, but ultimately they do little to help the story.

It's a shame that most people, upon hearing the title The Producers, think of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. While their version proved to be the more popular of the two, there's no doubt that the original Mel Brooks version is the superior. It's a must-see.

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